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Quick Overview of Extension Programs to Educate Homeowners about Environmentally Friendly Landscape Practices in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee

Tatiana Borisova, Katie Giacalone, Ruth Anne Hanahan, and Esen Momol


Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for a significant portion—almost one-third—of all residential water use, or more than 7 billion gallons of water per day (US EPA 2010). Some experts estimate that up to 50 percent of this water may be wasted due to overwatering, poor irrigation system design, evaporation, or other factors (US EPA 2010). Such waste depletes water supplies, especially in times of drought, and when combined with excessive or poorly timed fertilizer application, causes pollution runoff and deterioration of surface and ground water.

Federal, state, and local agencies, as well as cooperative extension services, have developed outreach programs to educate homeowners about environmentally friendly landscaping practices, the importance of water conservation, and opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts of landscaping practices while at the same time maintaining lawn aesthetics and saving time and money on landscape maintenance. This publication presents a quick overview of one such program (Yards and Neighborhoods) that educates homeowners about nine core principles for landscape management. The program was originally developed by the University of Florida, and it is currently implemented in seven states: Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In this publication, we use a table format to characterize Yards and Neighborhoods programs in three southeastern states: Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In these three states, the program is in different stages of implementation. In Florida, the program is well-established and supported by state and local agencies. It was re-named Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL), and is used as a trademark of the University of Florida. In Tennessee, the program is relatively new, but it is actively developing and expanding in its geographic coverage. In South Carolina, the program is undergoing growth due to new partnerships between horticulture agents and Clemson's Carolina Clear program, which works with communities to deliver regional, strategic stormater education and public involvement programming. Although all began as Yards and Neighborhoods programs modeled from the one at University of Florida, they each have grown in unique ways based on resources, clientele needs and interests, policy support, and other factors. By comparing these three programs, other states may gain insight as to how this program could best be delivered in their states and territories.

Outreach Programs Targeting Residential Landscaping Practices

Several programs have been developed to encourage environmentally friendly landscaping practices and are being promoted by different agencies and organizations (Table 1). Although these programs are developed for different geographical regions (Southern, Northeastern, and Western United States), they promote a similar set of core landscaping principles:

  1. Planning and designing landscapes to meet homeowners' recreational, functional, and aesthetic needs, which often translates into decreasing areas covered with turf, while increasing the use of trees and bushes

  2. Using plants with low-water requirements, preferably native plants

  3. Designing efficient irrigation

  4. Using mulch for moisture retention and weed management

The programs can also include additional principles, such as proper landscape maintenance (e.g., proper fertilizing, mowing, weeding, and pruning); holistic pest management; wildlife habitat creation; stormwater runoff reduction; composting; lawn aeration; water recycling; and proper waterfront management. Homeowners who follow the landscaping principles promoted by the programs can benefit from reduced costs and time requirements for landscape maintenance; improved landscape aesthetics and functionality; reduced environmental impacts (such as water use and stormwater runoff); and reduced exposure to potentially harmful chemicals (such as pesticides). The Yards and Neighborhoods program is one of the most comprehensive educational programs promoting environmentally friendly residential landscaping practices (discussed in detail in the tables).

Yards and Neighborhoods Programs in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee

A summary of Yards and Neighborhoods programs in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee is presented in Table 2. The primary target audiences for the three programs are individual homeowners and homeowner associations. In addition, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) has two special components targeting builders/developers and green industry professionals. Instead of promoting a "prescribed" design for the homeowner yard, the programs use a flexible approach and encourage implementation of nine core landscaping principles:

  1. Right Plant, Right Place

  2. Water Efficiently

  3. Fertilize Appropriately

  4. Mulch

  5. Attract Wildlife

  6. Manage Yard Pests Responsibly

  7. Recycle Yard Waste (note that in Tennessee, this principle is substituted with "Manage Turfgrass Appropriately")

  8. Reduce Stormwater Runoff

  9. Protect the Waterfront

The programs in the three states rely on similar educational methods to reach their target audiences. All three programs offer a yard recognition program to homeowners implementing Yard and Neighborhoods practices; however, the requirements for receiving the recognition certificate are slightly different among the programs. Furthermore, the programs in all three states have demonstration sites that educate homeowners about the nine core landscaping principles. In addition, program faculty and staff conduct workshops and training programs. An extensive library of resources for each program is available online.

In the three states, the programs partner with state and local government agencies. Particularly, FFL is referenced in Florida Senate Bill 2080 (2009), which mandates that homeowner association (HOA) covenants, deed restrictions, and local government ordinances may not prohibit or be enforced so as to prohibit any property owner from implementing FFL practices. Support from local government agencies is linked to the ability of the local government to use some features of the program to meet educational program requirements in their water pollution permits as part of the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, or MS4, program.

The programs' effectiveness in educating individual homeowners are measured through a set of indicators: (a) funding received by the programs and the partnerships established; (b) number of workshops conducted and participant attendance; (c) educational materials developed and distributed; (d) case studies with documented behavioral changes of target audience; and (e) a collection of "success stories" or the results of program implementation for individual yards or homeowner association properties for which water and/or landscape chemical use reductions are documented. An example of such success stories is the one provided by FFL. After delivering a series of FFL classes, the Village Las Palmas community, one of the three villages in Ocean Gallery (St. Johns County, Florida), decided to decrease irrigation costs and save water for common areas. They applied low-volume irrigation principles, installed soil moisture sensors, and replaced difficult-to-maintain turf grass areas with low-water and low-maintenance groundcovers. Savings attributed to the program include 10 million gallons of water in 2.5 years, and $6,500 that would otherwise be spent on landscape maintenance. Other success stories from the three states can be found by following the links provided in Table 2.

In the three states, the program's challenges include:

  1. Development of strategies to increase participation in workshops, as well as the level of adoption of landscaping practices by the homeowners

  2. Limited extension personnel and limited funding for the programs

  3. Difficulties associated with coordinating Yards and Neighborhoods programs across different counties, and coordinating Yards and Neighborhoods with other programs implemented by cooperative extension services (i.e., making sure that a consistent message is delivered to the homeowners)

  4. Tracking system for the implementation of Yards and Neighborhoods practices and consistent evaluations of the outcomes associated with implementation of the program's core landscaping principles. This specifically includes quantifying the economic costs and benefits resulting from the use of Yards and Neighborhoods practices, understanding the reasons for the variation in these costs and benefits among homeowners' properties and communities, and developing strategies to measure the impact of the program on local, regional, and state levels.


This paper presents a summary of Yards and Neighborhoods programs in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee in a convenient table format, to be used as a quick reference guide to the similarities and differences among the Yards and Neighborhoods programs implemented in these three southeastern states.


Florida Senate. 2009. Florida Senate Bill 2080. Florida Senate, Tallahassee, FL. Accessed December 2022.

US EPA. 2010. Outdoor water use in the United States. WaterSense. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

USGS. 2009. Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005. United States Geological Survey.

The following references correspond to the numbers in the tables in the document:

  1. US EPA. 2010. Outdoor water use in the United States. WaterSense. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

  2. Southern Regional Water Program. 2011. Who We Are. Texas A&M University, College Station, TX.

  3. Kansas State University. Kansas Healthy Yards and Communities. Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.

  4. Louisiana State University. Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

  5. North Carolina State University. Carolina Yards & Neighborhoods. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

  6. Clemson Cooperative Extension. The Carolina Yard & Neighborhood: Introduction to the Yardstick Workbook. Clemson, SC: Clemson University.

  7. The University of Tennessee. [Tennessee Smart Yards, formerly] Tennessee Yards & Neighborhoods. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. [01 December 2022]

  8. US EPA. 2010. Wastes — Resource Conservation — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — GreenScapes. Homeowners Section. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. [22 October 2012].

  9. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office. 2009. Creating a BayScape. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

  10. Williams, J.D., K. Tilt, and P. Barrett. 2003. Reducing Nonpoint Source Pollution in Residential Landscapes. BMPs for Wise Landscape Stewardship. ANR-1238, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Auburn, AL (May).

  11. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension — Cochise County. Welcome to Water Wise!

  12. Coder, K.D., G.W. Landry, J.T. Midcap, A.W. Tyson, and G.L. Wade. 2010. Xeriscape: A Guide to Developing a Water-Wise Landscape. B1073, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. Accessed December 2022.

  13. State Engineer Office, Water Conservation Program. 2004. A guide to water-wise landscaping in New Mexico. The Enchanted Xeriscape. State Engineer Office, Santa Fe, NM.

  14. Xeriscape Council of New Mexico.

  15. Welsh, D.F. Date not found. Xeriscape North Carolina. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC. [01 December 2022]

  16. Kelly, J., M. Haque, D. Shuping, and J. Zahner. 1991. Xeriscape: Landscape Water Conservation in the Southeast. EC 672, Clemson University, Clemson, SC. Accessed December 2022.

  17. Welsh, D.F., W.C. Welsh, and R.L. Duble. 2000. Landscape Water Conservation...Xeriscape™. Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Texas A&M University, College Station TX.

  18. Virginia Cooperative Extension. 2009. Creating a Water-Wise Landscape. Publication 426-713, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.

  19. Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission. 1997. A Source Book on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials. Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, Chicago, IL. Accessed December 2022.

  20. US EPA. 2010. Landscaping with Native Plants. Green Landscaping: Greenacres. United States Department of Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. Accessed December 2022.

  21. Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) Homeowner Program. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

  22. US EPA. 2010. Wastes — Resource Conservation — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — GreenScapes. Benefits of GreenScaping. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. [22 October 2012].

  23. US Fish and Wildlife Service – Chesapeake Bay Field Office. 2009. Why BayScape? United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

  24. Colorado WaterWise. Xeriscape Colorado. Colorado WaterWise, Denver, CO.

  25. Salsedo, C. 2004. Sustainable Landscaping for Water Quality. University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT.

  26. US EPA. 2010. Wastes — Resource Conservation — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — GreenScapes. Homeowners Section. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. [22 October 2012].

  27. Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. BayScaping to Conserve Water — A Homeowner's Guide. Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis, MD.

  28. US Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office. 2009. Creating a BayScape. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.

  29. What Is Xeriscape? Colorado WaterWise, Denver, CO.

  30. Brantley, E., W. Datcher, M. Dougherty, G. Fain, T. Glover, E. Huckabay, P. Hurley, C. Lebleu, G. McQueen Jr., S. Michael, E. Reutebuch, R. Roark, K. Werneth, and A. Wright. 2011. Alabama Smart Yards: Introducing Environmental Consciousness and Practical Management Options to our Yards & Neighborhoods. ANR-1359, Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), Auburn, AL.


Table 1. 

Examples of environmentally-friendly residential landscape management programs

Table 2. 

Summary of Yards and Neighborhoods programs in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee (several pages)



Publication #FE892

Date: 6/5/2019

Related Experts

Momol, Esen A.

University of Florida

Borisova, Tatiana

University of Florida

  • Critical Issue: Water Quality and Conservation
Fact Sheet

About this Publication

This document is FE892, one of a series of the Food and Resource Economics Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 2011. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Tatiana Borisova, assistant professor and Extension specialist, Food and Resource Economics Department; Katie Giacalone, statewide coordinator, Carolina Clear Program, Clemson University; Ruth Anne Hanahan, senior research associate, Water Resources Research Center, University of Tennessee; and Esen Momol, director, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Claire Lewis